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NFL Draft

Why Does Kyle Shanahan Escape Criticism For His Record?

  • The Draft Network
  • October 26, 2021
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There is a large disconnect between the amount of good grace that San Francisco 49ers’ head coach Kyle Shanahan receives and how the team has performed under his leadership. While Shanahan is young, innovative, and has an outstanding NFL pedigree, the 49ers have not consistently performed well in his 70 games as head coach and that is starting to become noticed.

Following the 49ers’ most recent loss to the Indianapolis Colts, it has been pointed out that Mike Singletary and Chip Kelly have a better career winning percentage as head coaches than Shanahan. After last week’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals, it surfaced that despite becoming the 49ers’ head coach in 2017 and Matt Nagy landing the Chicago Bears’ job in 2018 that the two coaches have the same amount of regular-season wins. 

Since taking over in 2017, Shanahan has a record of 31-39. San Francisco finished 6-10 in 2017, 4-12 in 2018, 13-3 in 2019, 6-10 in 2020, and are off to a 2-4 start in 2021. The 13-3 run in 2019 is the redeeming year in what has otherwise been a tenure defined by losing. 

There is no denying that injuries have been a major problem for Shanahan’s 49ers. Since taking over in 2017, the 49ers have been among the most injured teams in the NFL and the trend has continued in 2021. Even when San Francisco reached the Super Bowl in 2019, the 49ers had the sixth-most adjusted games lost for that season.

Injuries can be random and it’s hard to blame Shanahan for how snake-bitten the team has been. With that said, the sample size is growing and isn’t trending in the right direction. Last offseason, Shanahan was fined $50,000 and the 49ers were fined $100,000 for violating practice rules during organized team activities. This came after the NFL canceled the final week of rookie minicamp because San Francisco allowed bump-and-run coverage drills, which are prohibited by league rules during spring training.

One of the major contributing factors to players getting injured is intensifying activity too quickly. Surely Shanahan is aware of that information, but considering the number of injuries San Francisco has endured since 2017, it’s disappointing to see the team break training rules and endure harsh punishments for it.

The other dynamic that Shanahan’s apologists point to is not having good enough quarterback play to win consistently and overcome the injuries that the team has suffered. While many are excited to see Trey Lance develop and run Shanahan’s offense as “the guy” that Shanahan went all-in on, we can’t pretend like the Jimmy Garoppolo trade didn’t happen. Lance is Shanahan’s second attempt at landing “his guy” at quarterback.

After an 0-8 start to the 2017 season, San Francisco sent a second-round draft pick to the New England Patriots for Garoppolo. The 49ers eased Garoppolo into the lineup and it wasn’t until Week 13 that he took over as the starter. The 49ers were 1-10 and Garoppolo led San Francisco to five straight wins to close out the 2017 campaign. In the offseason, the 49ers signed Garoppolo to a five-year, $137.5 million contract, making him the highest-paid quarterback in NFL history at the time.

Between the trade and contract, Shanahan had his guy. Garoppolo auditioned for the job and Shanahan obviously believed he had his quarterback. Three years later, Shanahan parted with the No. 12 overall pick in 2021, a third-round pick in 2022, a first-round pick in 2022, and a first-round pick in 2023 to move up to No. 3 overall and select Lance. Time will tell if Lance is the answer for San Francisco but Shanahan whiffed at his first attempt at going all-in on a quarterback.

Despite uneven quarterback play, Shanahan has coached the 49ers offense to a top half of the league finish in total offense and scoring in every season on the job. Defensively, San Francisco has been even better, but it hasn’t amounted to wins. The 49ers have had statistically strong offenses and defenses but aren’t winning football games with any degree of consistency.

Shanahan continues to receive the benefit of the doubt. I’m not calling for him to be fired and I’m excited to see what Lance can do in his offense, but it’s at least time to start asking questions. The NFL is a results-based league and despite six or fewer wins in three of his first four seasons on the job, you won’t find any discussion about Shanahan being on the hot seat. At this point, it’s more than fair to put Shanahan on notice and expect more wins from San Francisco.

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